SARANAC LAKE - The state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to investigate this year how much environmental contamination from a former coal gasification plant on Payeville Lane has spread into Brandy Brook and Lake Flower.
The agency's findings could affect a proposal to return the village beach to Lake Flower, the cost of which a local group is raising money to study.
DEC spokesman David Winchell says a 2007 site characterization report on the Payeville Lane site determined it "poses a significant threat to the public health or the environment." The site was subsequently classified a Class 2 Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site, the second most serious rating on the state's hazardous disposal site classification scale.
"DEC plans to undertake a remedial investigation to fully determine the type, concentration and extent of contamination at the site," Winchell said in an email. "Based on the results of the remedial investigation, DEC will then determine the most effective way to clean up the contamination."
Winchell said in a subsequent email that the investigation would take place sometime this year. It would be performed by an outside environmental remediation company working under contract with and under supervision of DEC, he said.
The Payeville Road site is one of hundreds of former manufactured gas plants across the state DEC has investigated for possible environmental contamination. It was in operation from the late 1800s to about the 1940s and used coal to manufacture lighting gas for the village of Saranac Lake.
DEC's 2007 investigation found manufactured gas plant waste, like coal tar and benzene, in concentrations significantly above state standards in soils and groundwater, both on and off site.
"Field observations made during sediment sampling indicate that (manufactured gas plant waste) has migrated downgradient along Brandy Brook to Pontiac Bay of Lake Flower," the report reads. "Observations include sheens on sediments and strong MGP-like odors from sediments."
In addition to field observations, testing also found those sediments were contaminated with volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds "at several locations down gradient from the site along the course of the Brandy Brook stream channel and into Pontiac Bay."
The 2007 report is what led to the site earning a Class 2 ranking under the state's Superfund environmental cleanup program. Asked why it's taken another six years for a remedial investigation to be completed, Winchell said it has to do with funding.
"The state Superfund only recently was authorized to spend monies on these types of sites," he wrote. "Prior to this, there was no funding available for this remedial investigation. Thereafter, when funding was authorized, this project was one of many identified for investigation."
At its April 10 meeting, the village Board of Trustees passed a resolution calling on DEC to investigate and clean up the site in a timely manner. The resolution said the investigation is a matter "of paramount importance to the village, particularly given the proximity of a residential area to Brandy Brook and since consideration is being given to re-establishing a public beach on Lake Flower in a location immediately downstream of Pontiac Bay."
Friends of Lake Flower Beach, a group of local volunteers, is raising money to study the possibility of bringing the beach back to Lake Flower. The beach was on Lake Flower until the 1970s, when it was closed as part of the state's widening of River Street. A new village beach was created at Lake Colby, where it is today.
Trustee Paul Van Cott said village officials are trying to help the group raise $5,000 to fund the study. Van Cott has been promoting the cause on his "Team Saranac Lake" Facebook page and advertising it via Facebook. The Friends of Lake Flower Beach are also seeking donations on their own Facebook page.
Van Cott said last week that as soon as the $5,000 is raised, a resolution will be put on the village board agenda to advertise for bids for a consultant. Estimates on the study's cost have ranged between $5,000 and $10,000. If it's more than $5,000, Van Cott said the village may be able to make up the difference using money drawn from reserves.
"The study will look at the cost of building a beach and the cost of maintaining a beach," Van Cott said. "That includes things like what you need to get a Department of Health permit. You have to have bathrooms, you have to put down a certain type of material at a certain depth to build a beach."
Parking is another big issue that will have to be studied, Van Cott said. He said he plans to contact state Department of Transportation officials to see if there could be public parking along River Street, which is part of state Route 86. Funding sources for building a beach will also have to be examined, Van Cott said.
"Once we have a sense of what's possible and what it will cost, then we will need to have a community discussion about whether this is something we want to pursue," Van Cott said. "Even though there's some support for doing it, there are also people I've talked to who would rather see the beach remain at Lake Colby."
Van Cott, who is an attorney for the state Adirondack Park Agency and used to work for DEC, said he's met with DEC officials to tell them there is an interest in bringing the beach back to Lake Flower.
Asked if possible environmental contamination in the lake could impact the proposal, Van Cott said it's too early to know.
"There may not be contamination along that shoreline. It may be limited to what's in Pontiac Bay," he said. "It depends what they find. I shouldn't speculate as to the likelihood of what DEC would decide to do, but the end use that a community has for a property is part of what they take into account when they're deciding what type of cleanup to do. If there's contamination that needs to be cleaned up there, and the village is moving full throttle to have a beach there, I'm sure DEC would do everything they can to make that area clean enough so there could be a beach."
Van Cott said he hopes the feasibility study for the beach can be done this summer. Donations for it can be sent to Friends of Lake Flower Beach, 71 Clinton Ave., Saranac Lake, NY 12983.